Anand Teltumbde .The Republic of Caste: Thinking Equality in the Time of Neoliberal Hindutva. ,
Reviewed by Tanisha Agarwal, Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, Symbiosis International (Deemed University)
The Republic of Caste, written by Anand Teltumbde, spans thirteen chapters, each of which reveals how the Republic has failed to keep its promise to its most marginalised citizens. He uses the prism of caste to analyse contemporary politics- from the formation of Swacchh Bharat to AAP. The Republic of Caste emphasises on the ubiquity of the upper caste hegemony in the nation. He argues that upward mobility is a privilege afforded to an exclusive section of society and that the idea that India is a modern superpower will crumble with a cursory examination of who has benefitted from the Constitution of India.
He unfurls his argument by pointing the reader to Ambedkar’s disillusionment with the Constitution. Ambedkar had publicly stated that he had been used as a ‘hack’ by the Congress to perpetuate the Brahminical hegemony using the vocabulary of a modern democracy. Teltumbde mirrors the same tone and tenor while bringing out the fallacies of the Constitution. Although the makers of the constitution outlawed untouchability they crystalised the phenomena of caste into the foundations of the Republic. Teltumbde argues that they did so by splitting the “Scheduled Tribe” from the “Scheduled Caste”. Thus, reinstating caste at the very core of the Republic.
Focusing his attention on contemporary society, he delves into the ways in which the free market and religious fundamentalism has exacerbated the inequalities of a caste-riddled society. This has had catastrophic outcomes for the dalits, adivasis, and the dispossessed minorities at large. In that aspect the book tries to synthesise Marxist and Ambedkarite politics because it believes that the annihilation of caste and revolution are deeply intertwined and one cannot exist without the other. In doing so the book provides a critique of both the left and the Dalit movement that continue to diverge while caste and class realities remain inextricably interwoven in the nation. The Marxists in India who come from upper caste, middle class backgrounds were far removed from the realities of caste. They deemed it to be a part of the superstructure which would disappear once the economic base is changed. They viewed caste politics as fragmentary that would only obstruct the formation of class unity among the proletarians. The Dalits on their part refused to take into account the oppressive structures of economics and only concentrated on religious and cultural oppression. Teltumbde underlines the importance of uniting the two struggles and developing a better understanding among the two of the other to uplift the marginalised of the nation.
Ambedkarite Politics And Its Shortcomings
The book illuminates the primary fallacies of Ambedkarite politics which over the course of the decades has contributed to the solidification of caste instead of working towards annihilating it. Ambedkar sought to form a cohesive Dalit identity that could challenge the caste system in toto. Today, the leaders who use Ambedkar’s legacy to validate their politics are doing little to preserve that Dalit identity by endorsing the various castes and sub-castes under the Dalit identity. This is being done by various party leaders as a way to negotiate alliances with the ruling class however this will only yield fleeting and transitory results. The success of the Bahujan Samaj Party is used as a clear example of how the party used caste to win votes but does a disservice to Ambedkar by asserting caste consciousness instead of annihilating it. Since caste can only act as a divisive force, Teltumbde asserts the need to look beyond identity based solutions to the annihilation of caste. Through this chapter he makes a clear and important distinction between the annihilation of caste and the assertion of it.
Rethinking Reservation And The Logic Of Representation
The book makes a radical departure from dominant anti-caste discourse in that it identifies reservation as a mode of preserving caste in the constitution. Teltumbde is not against reservation but argues that the cost dalits pay for it far outweigh the gains reaped from them. He advises one to look at reservations not as a panacea but as only one of the means through which an egalitarian society can be realised. He contends that the stigma around reservation leads to a few, usually urban individuals, from the dalit community gaining its benefits while the entire community has to bear the brunt of it. This is especially true of the dalits in rural India who pay for it in the form of caste-violence without even gaining from the reservations.
The Republic of Caste makes another radical departure in that it implores the reader to re-evaluate the efficacy of representation in preventing caste atrocities. He uses the example of 1968 Kilvenmani, Tamil Nadu incident where forty four dalit labourers were burnt to death for organising themselves under the Communist flag. The book argues that the caste atrocities have only increased with the representation of dalits within the state machinery. This bold and counter-intuitive claim is put forth by analysing the peculiarities of the post-colonial Indian political economy. The book is remarkably non-partisan in its critique of the agents of society. It dismisses the ‘Dalit bourgeoise’ for failing to play a part in the upliftment of its brethren. It is here that his idea that representation does not ensure justice gains further light. However, this argument marks one of the few blind spots within the otherwise deftly articulated book. It fails to take into account the discrimination that Dalits in powerful positions face in institutions dominated by the upper caste. In such cases the book turns blind eye to the perpetual onslaught of caste on the Dalits.
The State And Caste
Through the book Anand Teltumbde wants to draw the reader’s attention to the active preservation of the caste system by the state. He postulates that Dalits need to rethink the concept of the state. The state is usually put on a pedestal by the Dalits as the provider of reservation. The Republic and its constitution are supposed to embody the vision of Babasaheb that will lead to the eventual upliftment of the marginalised. However, Teltumbde opines that it is the state itself, which by failing to penalise caste atrocities establishes a dangerous precedent while maintaining the caste system. He deploys several examples from contemporary India where the state has abused its power to curb independent, dissenting voices of the Dalits by using force, incarceration, and in some cases murder. He underlines the importance of Left and Dalit unity in fighting for those Dalit voices that have conveniently been labelled ‘naxalite’ for challenging the upper caste and class status quo. The book makes the case for Dalits to rethink their relationship with the state and their antagonism to the Left, to unite against the apparatuses of the state designed to protect the interests of the ruling castes and class.
Caste And Neoliberalism
The Republic of Caste challenges the prevalent belief among many Dalit intellectuals that the market is non-discriminatory and caste blind. The advent of the free market, Teltumbde notes, should have led the caste system to its grave by now. But it hasn’t. The privatisation of the basic resources like water, health care, transport, education as a consequence of the adoption of neoliberal policies has impacted the poor, especially Dalits, the most. It has exacerbated already prevailing inequalities in the society. It notes in the chapter ‘Manufacturing Maoists: Dissent in the Age of Neoliberalism’ that the past few years have witnessed the wrath of the state toward any dissent against the neoliberal policies of privatisation guided by a Brahminical leadership. He argues that ‘Maoism’ and ‘nationalism’ are the new lexicon for ‘out-caste’ and ‘caste’. The manufacturing of Maoists becomes integral to suppressing dissent and preserving the interest of the upper caste industrialists. Furthermore, the guiding essence of Social Darwinism underlining neoliberal thought makes it fundamentally antithetical to any conception of a casteless society. Teltumbde cogently argues against the myth that markets are casteless since they predominantly favour those already in positions of power by creating the perfect conditions for monopolies to thrive in, reaffirming the upper caste hegemony over capital.
Politics Of The Material
At the heart of the book is the need for a Dalit assertion to material change. Teltumbde provides a scathing critique of the Dalit parties that only do lip-service to the anti-caste cause by building statues and memorials of Ambedkar while ensuring little change in the material conditions of the Dalits. The right to land, education, and health is irreplaceable for any social revolution. He criticises Ambedkarites for not participating in land movements that would have yielded far more concrete progress to the anti-caste cause. It is here that he criticises the self-defeating divergence of the Marxists and the Ambedkarites. The mutual hostility between the two is a huge defeat for any imagination of an egalitarian order. He proposes an alliance between the two that takes both class and caste into account by combining Ambedkar’s pragmatism with Marx’s scientific analysis to build a just and fair society.
Saffronisation Of Ambedkar
He illustrates how dangerous it is to be content with the politics of symbolism by giving the example of the appropriation of Ambedkar by the Hindu-right wing. The inequalities created by the neoliberal fascist state go simultaneously with the saffronisation of Ambedkar. The symbolic service to Ambedkar is an attempt to create amnesia about his vitriolic remarks on Hinduism. The BJP has persistently unleashed violence on Dalits ( in Gujarat in 1981, 1985, and 2016 in Una, Bhima-Koregaon, Maharashtra, on 1 January 2018) while simultaneously building memorials for Ambedkar. This critique of the state is unfortunately prescient as Teltumbde himself was later arrested for ‘plotting to assassinate the PM in a Maoist conspiracy’. However, a cursory glance at Teltumbde’s politics will divulge the true reason for his arrest. Anand Teltumbde’s fierce social and economic critique of Hindutva has revealed the casteist and anti-people vision of the Sangh. His reiteration of Dr Ambedkar’s vision of heralding a social and economic democracy in India through anti-caste politics and state socialism betrays the contradictions in the BJP’s lip service to Ambedkar. Anand Teltumbde is not only one of India’s formidable intellectuals but also a son-in-law of the Babasaheb’s family. According to Prakash Ambedkar, Anand Teltumbde’s arrest is a direct attack by the Sangh on the legacy of Babasaheb Ambedkar. (Mevani & Kandasamy, 2020) Teltumbde’s imprisonment only gives strength to his argument on the manufacturing of Maoists as a novel form of Savarna violence to silence any Dalit dissent that asserts the need for upliftment of the community.
The Republic of Caste is a deftly articulated book that brings together two seemingly antithetical ideologies while establishing the marginalisation, stigmatisation, and exclusion of Dalits from the inception of the nation. It does so by laying bare the workings of history, ideology, economics and politics and reinstating the notion of equality in popular discourse. It’s greatest achievement is in its ability to lay the foundation for a novel kind of anti-caste politics that has the potential to rebuild the foundation of the Republic.
Mevani, J. & Kandasamy, M. (2020, April 14). Why Is Anand Teltumbde So Dangerous For The Narendra Modi Government? The Wire. https://thewire.in/rights/anand-teltumbde-arrest-narendra-modi